Orange Blocked

By Alec Meer on October 25th, 2007 at 10:39 am.

Are Valve big meanies? Apparently folk who bought the retail version of Valve’s Orange Box from online stores that flog cheap – but legit – boxed copies from foreign climes such as Russia and Thailand are finding that, after a week of happy play, they’re suddenly punished for saving a few bucks… How? Read on.

According to a letter-writer to the Consumerist, and backed up by a long thread of complainants here, such penny-pinchers have found Team Fortress 2, Portal et al are no longer playable, Steam all of a sudden proferring only the message that they’re in the ‘incorrect territory’.

Here’s an email exchange one guy had with Valve on the matter:

Hello my cd-key was invalidated and game removed
i get a steam error
Steam – Game unavailable
Team Fortress 2 is not available in your territory

ok so i contacted retailer to get a refund
and purchased a new copy at a local Circuit City here in Tacoma
but when i enter new cd-key says game is already installed log in to steam
but of course that doesn’t work and takes me back to
Steam – Game unavailable
Team Fortress 2 is not available in your territory

so i guess i need the supposedly invalid cd-key removed
so i can enter my new one
thanks

The response from Valve:

Games purchased in Thailand or Russia can only be played from those countries. If you purchased a game from Thailand or Russia and you do not live in one of those countries, you need to contact the seller for a refund.

I don’t think anyone’s quite desperate enough to play Episode 2 on the cheap to up sticks to another continent, so refunds seem to be the only answer, though initially the invalidated serial numbers prevented adding new ones. Now though, many folk in the same boat have managed to get their blocked overseas Orange Boxes removed and have either grudgingly bought new, full-price versions from their own territories, or have resorted to the predictable, if understandable, never-buying-a-Valve-game-again-you-utter-bastards ranting

We love Valve here at RPS. But this just doesn’t seem right. To use the cliche little man versus enormous corporation argument, God knows they make enough money not to have to do this. If there’d been a warning, if Steam hadn’t accepted the keys in the first place, if the sellers and not the buyers had been punished, I don’t think I’d feel so aghast.

The lesson would seem to be duh, don’t buy import stuff. But this is the internet. It’s built upon cat pictures (stop it now Walker- you’ve got your own blog for that), eye-watering amounts of pornography and bargain-hunting, after all. This is a pretty large-scale wrist-slapping for a very common practice.

In happier news, in Spain the Orange Box is known as ‘La Caja Anaranjada’, which is a thousand awesomes cooler than the prosaic English version. It sounds like Mexican druglords or something.

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58 Comments »

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  1. drunkymonkey says:

    That’s just encouraging people to pirate the game. If people want to save a few quiddies, so what? At least they’re still giving money to Valve.

  2. Theory says:

    It’s most likely down to retailers and/or regional publishers not wanting the game available online: see Scott Miller’s quote on what they get up to here.

    Normally Valve get away with ‘only’ inflating the prices in territories where this kind of thing happens (vis Bioshock’s European price), but, perhaps related to the fact that this has happened after release, it looks like that wasn’t the case for the Orange Box.

  3. Leelad says:

    It also annoys me that they stick on 17.5% when you buy stuff over steam, I’d love to know how much of that actually makes it’s way back to HM Revenue & Customs.

    Anyone happen to know the law on VAT in the UK regarding this? are VALVe right to charge it?

  4. Theory says:

    You don’t choose whether or not to pay tax you know.

  5. mno says:

    Leelad:

    If you do business in another EU country for less than ~€20000 you pay local VAT.
    If your business exceeds ~€20000 to another EU country, have to pay VAT in that country.

    I don’t know about US companies, but for EU merchants its right.

  6. icabod says:

    More annoying for the chap/chapess you quoted would be the generic response from generic-Valve-employee: “you need to contact the seller for a refund”, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the refund has already been given, a new version purchased, and that’s not what the problem is any more.

  7. Leelad says:

    I know but none of the receipts have UK VAT registration details for VALVe, Are they actually paying the money they take to HM Revenue & Customs or keeping hold of it.

    Which ever way you look at it they are breaking a law. Either seriously by pocketing an extra 17.5% of each sale made to a customer in the UK or mildly by not displaying their VAT registration number on the invoice.

  8. Adam Hepton says:

    I don’t understand why anyone would buy a boxed copy when they can just pay for it over Steam, myself. But then, I am incredibly lazy.

    Just how cheap ARE Russian/Thai games, anyway, that you’d be willing to wait for when/if (thanks to a combination of both our postal services) the disc to turn up?

  9. Robert says:

    Half the price or even less.

  10. Thiefsie says:

    A 3rd the cost. Bunch of Aussies are rightly cut at this for buying from Thailand. It cost under $20 AUD.

    Myself I bought from Steam so I’m not bothered, but this is bad practise from not advertising the fact beforehand, or even on first install.

    I’m wondering who is more to blame?!?! Valve or EA? EA have already (previously) stopped legal sale of EA games to outside of Thai territories from Thai shops. (Grey areas emerged where some shops were emailing out cd-keys but refused to sell the actual cd/box to sidestep this law/rule/requirement?)

    Not a good state of affairs really.

    The above support from Valve seems pretty par for the course from what I’ve seen around… not exactly the most helpful people at the best of times, hell they got your money.

    Unfortunately I suppose this is the next stage of region encoding but for pc games… to control territorial prices. Funny that a fair few games these days don’t have regions on them (and thus I buy cheap from Hong Kong etc for my 360 – for roughly half retail price here in Aus)

    Us aussies have been boned on videogame prices since forever though. Blame it on small markets or whatever… but the PS3 is perhaps the worst example.

  11. Robert Seddon says:

    Consoles and DVD players have had region locks built in for a long time, so maybe Valve thought artificial territory restrictions would be accepted as part of the natural order of things even under these rather different circumstances.

  12. Thiefsie says:

    Don’t get me started on delay’s to Nintendo titles here ;) (For Wii at least anyway)

  13. AbyssUK says:

    This is way the piratebay gets more and more popular, and why pc gaming will die.

  14. Monkfish says:

    As Thiefsie says, a lot of it is down to suppliers from the Thai and Russian territories selling valid product keys that can be used on Steam, without actually sending discs/boxes. Problem is, though, Joe consumer knew nothing of the “regionalisation” of the product keys up-front. Ideally, the poor customers that are affected by this should have been warned the moment they tried to enter the key into Steam to access their purchase.

    It’s poor show of Valve to simply cut off these people’s game supply without any prior warning. Perhaps a courtesy email would’ve been a nice idea, y’know give these people the benefit of the doubt. They may not have realised they were doing anything wrong buying the games in this manner – they were probably just trying to save a few pennies.

    It also raises another issue – if you live in these territories, buy the Orange Box legitimately and then emigrated, I’m guessing you won’t be allowed to take them with you. I know not being able to transfer licences between territories is common practice with software, but I thought the global nature of Steam prevented the need for this kind of thing.

  15. Thiefsie says:

    It also bears mention that part of the ‘features’ touted around for steam was that it was only account dependent and you can play your games on any computer anywhere. I suppose that doesn’t really fly anymore.

  16. schizoslayer says:

    The biggest gripe is that nobody should be warned they are doing anything illegal because they aren’t doing anything illegal. So long as various import taxes are paid you can import anything you want that doesn’t break local laws.

    The territory locking thing for consoles only happens because there isn’t a law that stops it (except in australia where the corporations just ignore it).

  17. Alec Meer says:

    (I apologise for the poorly aliased image, incidentally. I’m no photoshop genius.)

  18. Thomas says:

    Not circumventing the territoral fees like VAT and what not is part of the Steam EULA, you agree to that when you sign up. There’s of course the age-old debate whether or not this EULA is valid, but atleast you shouldn’t be surprised.

    I can’t see how it in any way effects the “Play your games on any computer anywhere”-term

    But i agree it seems over the top for retail copies, i sometimes buy games on my vacations too, and it’s possible that you move country too.

    So as far as i’m concerned the juristriction over these issues should be in steam-purchases and not in retail purchases.

  19. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    In Russia, Valve plays you!

    Ok, I’ll stop now.

  20. Bozzley says:

    I guess these people can’t get into their games to hear the commentaries to get Gabe Newell’s email address – gaben@valvesoftware.com. Give it a go.

  21. solios says:

    I still think Steam is the real reason there aren’t any Valve products available for the Mac.

  22. Richard says:

    Also, Valve wanted a large sack of cash upfront.

  23. The_B says:

    “This is way the piratebay gets more and more popular, and why pc gaming will die”

    Hello melodramaticism.

  24. go says:

    Some german buyers have been dissapointed by the lack of gore in their preordered game – they had been delivered the censored version based on their german IP.
    Censorship beeing another topic, they solved the problem by asking valve to give them a refund (valve did it, nice of them), and buying an uncenswored retail version of the game afterwards from another country (UK for example). That worked, and I’m wondering if they blocked those games too…

  25. oryly says:

    Honestly, lower priced games in other countries is a good idea. Incomes there are lower than in the US and other 1st world countries. By lowering the price, they’re able to match what the people there can afford. It also lessens the amount of piracy since the gap between an original copy and a pirated copy is smaller.

    The only thing that they botched was that there should have been a giant, orange colored warning before anyone installs one of those cheapo versions. I say let the ones who bought it in the past go, but stick the warning on in the future.

  26. Theory says:

    Censorship beeing another topic, they solved the problem by asking valve to give them a refund (valve did it, nice of them), and buying an uncenswored retail version of the game afterwards from another country (UK for example). That worked, and I’m wondering if they blocked those games too…

    It’s only Thai and Russian retail copes that are affected.

  27. jph wacheski says:

    otyly – you got it right Valve is just playing the world software distribution game as best they can,. the world situation is a bit of a economic mess really,. and by selling at a price based on regional income they are trying to lessen piracy,. Now if you actually bought the ‘boxed’ ver. you would have been able to read the region notice printed on the box,. if you got a S/N from some online site, with no box recived, then no you where not warned, however you should have known what you where doing was a reality hack and lible to go badly,. . Im NOT a fan of big rich companies grubing for every last doller they can get,. however last Christmas I went home for a few days only to return to find my apartment robed,. and trashed,. my whole computer system was gone and all my consoles,. x-box, ps2, cube, dreamcast, and all my games lagit and pirated where stolen,. and having no insurance made this even worse,. however when i did get a new system,. and started looking for software to reinstall,. I just went to my email account got my steam code and was playing HL2 in less than an hour!! All hail STEAM! Just do away with ‘boxes’ altogether,. you can lose those,. having a lagitimate key with valve is its own insurance!

  28. Thomas says:

    “Also, Valve wanted a large sack of cash upfront.”

    Actually, Valve answered back and said they’ve never said anything like that.

    Also what’s wrong with it? Why would any company want to part with their source code for free?

  29. drunkymonkey says:

    “Actually, Valve answered back and said they’ve never said anything like that.”

    Are you saying that you’d expect Valve to own up to if that was the case? Vested interest, and all that.

  30. Thomas says:

    “Are you saying that you’d expect Valve to own up to if that was the case? Vested interest, and all that.”

    That argument goes both ways, obviously at this point it’s the Mac bloggers claim vs. Valve’s claim.

    But as already said, what’s wrong with a fee? This practice has been around ~forever, you want the source code, you pay the price.

  31. Jeremy says:

    Hmm, what are Thailand and Russia known for? Pirated media, perhaps? Sounds like Valve’s just trying to protect their IP, albeit in a ham-handed manner. I worry because I live in Japan, yet constantly buy stuff via Valve and other online distributors for stuff in the US of A. My Japanese is ok, but reading is crap, I don’t want to spend thousands of yen (tens of greenbacks) on a translated version of a game I can barely understand.

    Shorter me: regionalization sucks

  32. Ghiest says:

    Half the price or even less.

    Then the whole thing is why can they afford to sell them so cheap in the first place?

    Sterling vs the Dollar is at an almost all time high at the moment but none of that saving is actually passed on what so ever, even the yen is nearing the best it’s been in 10 years but again we pay 20-50% more on any goods (even online goods at that). So why do so-called weak economies such as Thailand and Russia get to flog it at almost half the price but still make money?

  33. Zell says:

    It’s always unpleasant to realize that what you are buying is not a real thing but a license, which is a rather abstract thing. But you know, practically speaking, if Valve didn’t price these things relative to economic regional power, the only result would be that regular Joes in Russia simply couldn’t afford them. This threatens to get perilously close to debates on international trade and monetary politics though.

  34. Alec Meer says:

    “It’s clear after a few moments’ thought that region locking is not Valve’s interest: Steam sells over the internet, making the reasoning behind and benefits of it utterly irrelevant.”

    Except if, as appears to be the case, Steam’s price for TOB is being undercut by these imports too, Valve would be just as irked about the loss of cash from rich western punters as EA or anyone else would.

  35. Theory says:

    Valve choose their own prices.

  36. Theory says:

    Oh, wait, I see what you mean now. Hmm.

  37. Crispy says:

    My opinion of Valve as a developer far outranks my mixed feelings of them as a Publisher/Corporation. Although they consistently deliver good games, they’ve made a good few cockups as far as I’m concerned recently.

    First there was the DOSBox controversy, where the DOSBox was used for the id-Developed/Valve-published Steam version of Doom, etc. with no credit given (an illegal act). Valve kept totally schtum about this, they made absolutely no statement to explain why this was, and id didn’t even apologise.

    At the same time Quake was released but the Steam version didn’t have any of the CD tracks, so no Trent Reznor and no Quake theme tune.

    Then Valve release a barebones port of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. with all the original release bugs still in the game. Considering there are game-breaking bugs in that first version, not telling customers there are patches out there that will vastly improve gameplay experience, indeed not even mentioning the product was bugged in the first place, is a great disappointment to me.

    Then there was the whole Bioshock fiasco where the demo/game installed Securom rootkits onto your PC without prior advice. At the same time there were ridiculous limits on the amount of installs you were permitted, which they later had to increase because of the customer backlash.

    Now there’s this. I dunno who heads up the sales side of Steam, but they need to get their act together, because it comes across as amateurish to me. The catalog of errors has really made me question what sort of quality control Valve put through their third-party Steam products, and whether I want to buy any of the games I might otherwise check out if I knew the full history beforehand. The fact is I can’t know if I need to be patching a game I buy on Steam unless Valve tell me. I really shouldn’t need to research my purchases on Steam before going through with transactions.

  38. Theory says:

    First there was the DOSBox controversy, where the DOSBox was used for the id-Developed/Valve-published Steam version of Doom, etc. with no credit given (an illegal act). Valve kept totally schtum about this, they made absolutely no statement to explain why this was, and id didn’t even apologise.

    Perhaps because it really, really doesn’t matter? This is a technicality.

    Then Valve release a barebones port of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. with all the original release bugs still in the game.

    It takes source code access to make a Steam version of a game. Valve release what they’re given.

    Then there was the whole Bioshock fiasco where the demo/game installed Securom rootkits onto your PC without prior advice. At the same time there were ridiculous limits on the amount of installs you were permitted, which they later had to increase because of the customer backlash.

    There was and is no rootkit, and the rest of the decisions were made by 2K. You could always argue that they were complicit I suppose, if you’re bothered about it in the first place.

  39. Crispy says:

    1. It does matter. DOSBox is distributed under the terms of a GPL license which mandates the original source code or access to the original source code must be made available with every distribution of the software (including if it’s distributed with or within another product). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GPL#Copyleft – have a read, it’s not a ‘technicality’, it’s part of a legally-binding contract that was broken.

    2. Releasing a broken game because ‘you didn’t know’ isn’t an excuse, it’s proof to me of lazy business practise. When Valve sell something to me on Steam I consider it as having passed Valve’s very own seal of approval. When they start selling broken games I begin to doubt their integrity and the quality of their quality control.

    3. I stand corrected on the Securom program installing ‘rootkits’ specifically, but that doesn’t change the fact Bioshock was distributed initially with stupid conditions. Now Valve could have made me aware of the changes to their third-party content, but they chose not to. On this occasion I didn’t buy my game from 2K, it’s from Valve. Basically what I’m saying is Valve need to take more responsibility for providing content as far as quality control and customer relations for third-party games is concerned.

  40. Seether says:

    I can’t say I’m surprised at this considering my dealings with VALVe. I picked up a copy of Half-Life 2 at my local Goodwill and absolutely NOWHERE on the packaging does it inform you that if someone has already installed/registered the game, i.e. used the CD-Key, then it is impossible for me to play this copy of the game…and worse, when I contacted VALVe about it, their response was essentially, “Yes. That’s our policy.”

    When I thought, “OK, despite the fact that I’ve already paid for this damn game, I’ll see about paying again to get a valid CD-Key”, I then found out that I can only do that if it’s an older game like the original Half-Life…If I don’t have a receipt from a “reputable” retailer from within the last 90 days, then my only option is to go buy the whole game all over again.

    Way to make me not want to get the Orange box, VALVe…way to go.

  41. Theory says:

    have a read, it’s not a ‘technicality’, it’s part of a legally-binding contract that was broken.

    It was also a mistake that harmed nobody and was soon corrected.

    When they start selling broken games I begin to doubt their integrity and the quality of their quality control.

    It would certainly have been nice of them to insist on GSC shipping the latest version to them before putting it up, but really, don’t you think you’re overreacting a little here?

    Now Valve could have made me aware of the changes to their third-party content, but they chose not to.

    It was and is all on the purchase page. Again, you’re right that they could have done more, but wrong to exaggerate lone examples into some kind of trend.

  42. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    eye-watering amounts of pornography

    Is that water in the eyes from crying hard and thanking the lord for the gift? :P

  43. restricted says:

    It would certainly have been nice of them to insist on GSC shipping the latest version to them before putting it up, but really, don’t you think you’re overreacting a little here?

    No, if you buy the game and can’t finish it!.

    Also, not giving credit and disrespecting the GPL is no little thing, and they’re not the first developer/publisher to do it. The DOSBox guys work really hard and have a great product, if you’re going to make money from it, at the very least I would expect credit, and also some donations from the sales would be well received.

    Valve guys are genius developers, but with each passing day I think more and more than Steam in its philosophy are no more than a POS

  44. restricted says:

    me can’t speak english bwarrghhh

    Where it says

    No, if you buy the game and can’t finish it!.

    read

    Not if you buy the game and can’t finish it!.

  45. Adam of Scarborough says:

    Well now I am worried. I bought a copy of the Orange Box over eBay from a video game dealer in Melbourne, Australia.

    I also live in Australia.

    The price was great.. which is why I bought it. Something like $54. None of the text on the game box is in any language other than English, and everything has installed fine and as working perfectly.

    But Australia is awful close to Thailand.

    And in hindsight, this worked out to be a pretty good deal…

    If I get locked out I am going to be really mad.

  46. WCAYPAHWAT says:

    What exactly was the orange box release date in Australia? I’m still waiting for the copy i pre-ordered to come in to my local Harvey Norman store. I know this issue has nothing to do with either Valve nor EA but its still bad business practice. You know, the whole point of preordering is so you can get it on release, and all that.

  47. Adam of Scarborough says:

    25th. I know some stores had it available yesterday.

    The entire reason I went hunting for a new copy on eBay was because EB Games was selling their copies for $100. Which seemed like a pretty excessive markup.

  48. Sucram says:

    Boxed games in Thailand tend to cast 700-1000Baht (£10-£13), this is still a very high price for most of Thailand and it actually far easier to find places selling pirated copies (which tend to cost 200-300Baht) than it is to find genuine boxed version.

    I spend about half the year in Thailand and the other half in the UK, so I’m rather put off by the idea that I’d be one of the few people to actually buy a genuine game only to be told that that I have to buy it again when I travel elsewhere.

  49. MrMelons says:

    To the majority as a whole, sucks to be you, I bought the game for $40 so i could play TF2 Beta. As far as boohoo a company is sticking it to the people AGAIN, Valve is a company, companies like/ need money and perhaps if Valve didn’t put out Game of the Year games every time they release anything I might be pissed about paying the full price, but they do so just give them the respect they deserver and quit griping. As far as the oh my god I can’t believe Valve didn’t tell me when i purchase a game if it needs updates Cry Me A River, when you buy a game over the counter do you come back and ask them why they didn’t tell you it was an un-patched copy? I don’t, I see a bug i check for updates, what game now doesn’t already have updates out, sometimes when it has just been released? It should be common practice for people to check if a game has a patch out for it. Valve is not a baby sitter they don’t need to hold your hand through every process, Steam although a pain in the ass at times IS great and the reason it has so many issues is cause its the only System of its type so it gets to be the Testing child until it is refined into perfection. I just find it fascinating that people are so quick to praise a company but when they try rip the company off and get caught turn around and nay say them, lets all pay half price so we can get half-assed games. Oh boy! Oh boy!